Dribble, Step Back, Release

A Daily Babble Production

Each of the last five field-goal attempts Paul Pierce took last night came in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime.  Exactly one of those shots occurred on a play when the Celtics already held the lead in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

On the other four occasions, Pierce tied the game twice in regulation, turned a one-point deficit into a one-point lead in overtime and then broke a tie game with what would prove to be the winning basket with three seconds remaining in the extra session.

Before he made the transition lay-up to tie the game at 91 with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Celtics' captain made just six of his first 17 shots.  After that, the deja vu began.

PP hit four shots that looked all too pleasantly familiar to those who have followed his game.  So many times over his 11 seasons, the Celtics have needed a big basket, and Pierce has delivered it with his patented isolation move at the foul line.  Hard righty dribble toward the lane, quick step back to the right, rise up, lean back, release. 

Pierce took his shot a bit more quickly and with less of a step back than usual when he hit from the foul line to tie the game at 93 with 10 seconds left in regulation.  But it was as that shot left his hands that all his shooting struggles of the first four-plus games of this series seemed to fall by the wayside as his offensive swagger returned.  There were no doubts about the three shots that followed from there, each from nearly identical spots just above the right elbow.   Dribble, step, shot, net.  Repeat.  Repeat.

The Paul Pierce that took this team on his back so many times this season, so many times in the decade prior - the one Kevin Garnett calls "Superman" - arrived just in the nick of time.

He looks exhausted, and he has played far from his best basketball over the course of this series so far.  But as Eddie Palladino informs us before each game at the New Garden, he is the Captain aaaaaaaaaaaand the Truth.

And he reminded us of that with a flourish at crunch time as he helped push the Celtics to victory in the season's biggest game to date.

More from the 106-104 green victory that marked this playoff series as the first ever to go to overtime on three separate occasions:

  • Of all the plays Kendrick Perkins made on his 16-point, 19-rebound, 7-block night, perhaps none was bigger than stepping into the lane to swat a John Salmons jumper, which precipitated the fast break lay-in on which Paul Pierce tied the game with 1:13 to play in the fourth.  As many of our members noted last night, the man in the middle also played more than 48 minutes without getting called for a single foul.  Lindsey Hunter was the only other member who played for either team to go foul-free, and he played a mere 47:35 less than Perk did.
  • Also not called for a foul: Mikki Moore.  Credit Doc Rivers for that.
  • I praised Kirk Hinrich after Game 4 for his defensive work in this series.  Let's go ahead and add his offensive performance to that as well.  While the Celtics' bench combined to shoot 2-for-10 for five points, Hinrich poured in 19 all by his lonesome while raising his three-point shooting in the series to nearly 48 percent (10-for-21) and his true shooting to nearly 63 percent.  He is taking and making good shots, busting his gut on defense and proving to be quite a thorn in the green's side.
  • Two days after a nightmarish performance around the rim, Large Baby made sure he had no such issues om a 21-point effort that featured strong play underneath, a couple of jumpers and a team-high 7-for-8 effort at the foul line.  Heckuva way to bounce back for the Infuriated Infant.
  • Zero.  That's the number of seasons in his career Ben Gordon has shot less than 40 percent from behind the three-point line.  He posts a 55.4 percent true shooting mark for his career and has notched better than 57 percent true shooting in two of the last three seasons (including this one).  His performance over the first four games of this series was actually slightly less efficient than his shooting this season.  After a rough fifth game, his true shooting for the series is now lower than his career mark.  Let's please get over the ideas that Gordon has "gotten lucky," or "just caught a few breaks" or "still has to prove himself" as far as his shooting over the course of this series is concerned.  I've made it clear in the past that there is a lot I don't like about his game - namely, everything besides his scoring ability.  But the man is very much for real in this league as an efficient scoring threat and has been for some time. 
  • Last night wasn't Gordon's his best work, but he still managed to hit two high degree-of-difficulty shots (one over Stephon Marbury to give the Bulls the lead late in regulation and another off the glass in the middle of a crowd in overtime) and carry the Bulls' offense down the stretch, scoring nine of his team's final 13 points.
  • Sore groin and all, John Salmons may not be playing his best basketball, but I would kill to have his mega-cool goatee.
  • Before making his untimely exit, Ray Allen knocked down the right corner three that halved the Bulls' lead from six to three as the Celts battled back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit.  Big.
  • Officiating basketball games is a difficult undertaking.  Sometimes, the referees make mistakes that allow one team to catch a break.  Sometimes, they make mistakes that allow the other team to catch a break.  Oftentimes, whether those "mistakes" were in fact even mistakes depends on the color of the apparel worn by the observer deeming them mistakes.  I would imagine that in the long run, the balance of breaks granted evens out (while allowing for the reality of occasional skewing for certain stars that permeates sports culture and goes far beyond the NBA).  Aside from that, I endorse much of what's been said recently by ESPN's John Hollinger and Hardwood Paroxysm's Matt Moore, and I find the constant discussion of officiating agendas rather nauseating.
  • When Rajon Rondo wasn't leaving 10-foot jumpers three feet short by floating them instead of shooting them, I found myself wowed by his offensive performance.  Again.  In addition to hitting two three-pointers, he showed the presence of mind not to shoot an open look from the right wing with the Celtics trailing 83-77 and the shot clock inside 10 seconds.  Instead, he waited for Ray Allen to make it out to the right corner with three on the shot clock, and he hit the shooter in rhythm for the open trey.
  • Perhaps Stephon Marbury should have taken that three-pointer with the game tied at 91.  But once again, it's hard to blame the guy for hitting a teammate for an open 10-footer in that situation.  Too unselfish makes me worlds more comfortable with Steph than too selfish does.
  • The Bulls got three shots up on a 29-second possession in a two-point game in the final two and a half minutes of regulation.  This ended with Derrick Rose laying the ball in to extend the lead to four.  Clearing the glass is a must for the Celts.
  • The Bulls are giving the Celtics a lot of trouble at the defensive end when they go small with John Salmons at the four.  The Infant doesn't match up well with him at all, and Brian Scalabrine had plenty of trouble late in Sunday's game.  Given Doc Rivers' limited options, it was interesting to see him insert Stephon Marbury to guard Kirk Hinrich late in the game, thus allowing Pierce to move back to Salmons. 
  • Derrick Rose has done plenty of fine work for the Bulls in this series, but his penchant for turning the ball over continues to offer the Celtics quite a bit of help.
  • I can't print what The Guru said about Tony Allen after the game.  Consider me thankful that the Celtics overcame a couple of plays on which TA's thinking prowess did not shine too brightly.  Let's leave it at that on a happy day.
  • Speaking of The Guru, best wishes for a wonderful [number redacted] birthday for him today!  He still prints and reads every word and comment of each Babble, and no matter what happens on the floor for the Celtics, the true highlight of basketball season for me is sharing the experience with him.  Here's to a fine day and many more years of happiness, Dad.

The Celtics struggled in several facets of the game through much of last night's contest.  They failed to get their primary scoring options going through most of the first three and a half quarters and relied on a patchwork offense complete with jumpers from Perk and Rondo when they weren't featuring a particularly Nasty Newborn.  But in the face of exhaustion, frustration, lack of depth due to injury, lack of depth due to foul trouble and lack of depth due to incompetence, the Celtics battled back from a double-digit fourth quarter deficit to pull out an overtime victory in a crucial swing game.

I can't begin to describe how proud I am to root for this group of players and its coaching staff.  Here's to packing up these two weeks of heart stoppage once and for all on Thursday night .

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